Friday, August 15, 2008

Fixing The Billboard Hot 100 chart: Part IV

Most of you are probably very familiar with the show American Idol. In it's seven years, the singing talent show has uncovered many great stars in a variety of music formats including Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jordin Sparks and Kellie Pickler. Idol will always be associated closely with it's season one winner, Kelly Clarkson. On September 4, 2002, Clarkson was crowned the champion and did a tearful rendition of her soon-to-be released single "A Moment Like This." The song was released to radio almost immediately, debuting at #41 on the R&R pop chart just nine days after Clarkson's crowning moment. Four days later, on September 17th, 2002, the single for was made available for purchase.

Due more than anything to the show's amazing popularity, "A Moment Like This" sold a staggering 236,000 copies in it's first week. I still remember purchasing this song myself at my local Best Buy and noticed that it was the ONLY song out that was available at the time as a single. Needless to say, since there really wasn't anything out at the time readily available as a single, it had a HUGE advantage saleswise over anything else charting on the Billboard Hot 100. Due to the strength of it's Pop (Top 40) and Adult Contemporary airplay, the song had already climbed to #52 on the Hot 100. Needless to say, with it's huge sales advantage, the song had no problem leaping 51 spots to number one on the Hot 100 after the first week sales were tabulated! Was this fair or right? Hardly. Eventually, the song would climb to #4 on both the Pop and AC charts, while also peaking at #27 on the Hot AC chart. So yes, the song did turn out to be a pretty significant hit, but was it deserving of being called the "number one song in the U.S." at any point during it's chart life? No.

Sadly, Billboard did nothing to fix this inherent flaw on the Hot 100 chart methodology. As bad as the Kelly Clarkson example was, it was nothing compared to what followed. Since Clarkson won, a string of songs which hardly anyone outside of fans of the American Idol show would become "number one hits" on the Hot 100. On May 21, 2003, Ruben Studdard narrowly won the second American Idol title over Clay Aiken. Three weeks later, both Studdard and Aiken released singles. On June 28th, 2003, Aiken's "This Is The Night" debuted at #1 on the Hot 100 chart, while Studdard's "Flying Without Wings" was right behind at #2. As per the Clarkson example, nothing else was readily available as a single at the time. Aiken's song would go on to become a VERY minor pop radio hit, peaking at #48 on July 18, 2003, while Studdard's song never even charted on the pop chart! American Idol as a show was definitely popular, but were these two songs the two "most popular songs in the nation" at the time? Heck no!

And so it went... Fantasia won season three of the show, released a song called "I Believe" which flopped on U.S. radio, but managed to sell enough to reach #1 on the Hot 100 chart. Carrie Underwood won season four of the show and released a song called "Inside Your Heaven" the her first single. Season four runner-up Bo Bice also released a version of the same song as a single. And once again, both Idols would be at #1 and #2 on the Hot 100. While Carrie's song would eventually peak at #10 on the R&R AC chart, and also barely crack the Top 50 at Country and Top 40 radio, Bice's song never charted on a radio chart. Once again, we had songs ruling the Hot 100 which were hardly relevant outside of American Idol's audience.

In season five, Taylor Hicks won Idol in what most to this day still consider a HUGE upset. Anyone who watched the show that year knows that the guy with all of the talent that year was one Chris Daughtry. Daughtry only took fourth place that season, but he would end up having the last laugh as I'm sure you know. Taylor's coronation song, "Do I Make You Proud" flopped at pop radio as did most of the previous winner's songs. The song did manage to eventually peak at #20 on the Adult Contemporary chart - not much of a feat, considering it usually takes less than 200 spins in a week nationwide to get to that position. Sales in excess of 228,000 copies though ensured yet another illegitimate #1 Hot 100 debut. Not even two months after release, the song was off the Hot 100 chart as sales for it dramatically fell after the first two weeks.

Jordin Sparks won season six of Idol. Unlike the previous winners, her coronation song, "This Is My Now," was not released as a physical single. The main reason for this is that Billboard had FINALLY come to the realization that physical singles were no longer relevant. Even if a song sold 150,000 physical copies, it wasn't going to have a significant impact on the Hot 100 chart now. Like Hicks' song, Jordin's song was available for digital download though. The song did not receive signficant airplay and also didn't sell all that well as many people were probably looking to buy a physical copy. As a result the song "only" reached #15 on the Hot 100 chart. Jordin's first "official" release from her debut album, called "Tattoo" was released to radio on August 27, 2007. Despite her label, Jive, repressing downloads of the song for four weeks, the song would only manage to get to #8 on the Hot 100. "Tattoo" would turn out to be the second most successful pop radio Idol winner debut hit to date though, reaching #5 on the Mediabase pop chart. It would also crack the top 10 at AC and hit #12 at Hot AC.

With Billboard's realization that digital was now the preferred method of single purchase, you would have thought that some sense of accuracy would be applied to the chart... However, as seen with the Mariah Carey and Rihanna examples in Part III, this was hardly at all the case. With season seven Idol winner, David Cook, the Hot 100 chart would arguably reach it's all-time low. Prior to Cook's winning of Idol, Billboard decided to attempt to "tweak" the chart again in 2006. Digital sales became a HUGE component of the chart. So much so, that it was now common for songs that no one had heard of to chart. Miley Cyrus had SIX songs debut on the Hot 100 with the release of her Hannah Montana album. Cook would have 11 songs debut on the Hot 100, including four in the top 30, when his album came out earlier this year! Cook's first single, "The Time Of My Life" debuted at #3 on the Hot 100 on the strength of 236,000 sales in it's first week. The song has gone on to become a decent-sized hit, reaching #30 at Top 40, #6 at Hot AC and #3 at AC. Since radio airplay is now a bigger component of the Hot 100 chart, the song did not make it to #1 despite it having the second largest week one sales for an Idol winner's coronation song. Lil' Wayne's "Lollipop" and "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis - two singles which have sold more than 5,500,000 units to date combined - prevented it for hitting the top spot.

I bring up the sales figures for "Lollipop" and "Bleeding Love" for many reasons, but first and foremost is that huge sales over a long duration (rather than a few weeks)are usually a sure sign of a hit record. Additionally, sales usually run ahead of airplay on the charts today. In other words, a song usually will peak in sales before it has peaked in radio airplay. If the people at Billboard realized this, it would go a long way towards fixing the Hot 100.

In part five, I'll explain the above statement along with asking the agelong question - why can't Billboard find a way to incorporate album sales into the Hot 100, especially in cases like Kid Rock's??? In case you don't know, Kid Rock currently has the #5 pop song in the nation with "All Summer Long." It's also #4 at Hot AC and even #13 at Country! It's a bona-fide multi-format smash! Even in Billboard's much-maligned airplay component, the song is in the top five at the moment with nearly 90 million in estimated listening audience. Kid Rock's current album Rock N Roll Jesus is selling in excess of 90,000 copies a week. Yet, Kid Rock's HUGE current hit sits mired at #28 on the Hot 100 chart!!! Why is it sitting so low, despite the fact that over 1,500,000 copies of the song have been sold to date? That's to come, along with me finally recommending some solutions to fixing the chart.

Next: Part V - The Fix


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I care nothing about charts and numbers but I do know talent. Very much do I know it. Whether he ever sells another record or not, no one else has the all around talent of Taylor Hicks.